Canada enters the FIBA U-17 version of the “Elite Eight” tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET, drawing arguably their toughest opponent to date in Turkey. With only one loss thus far in the tournament – an 18 point setback at the hands of top-rated USA – the Turks have a blend of length on the perimeter and a formidable presence inside in 6’9″ Ahmet Duran (#14). Turkey also had a tremendous comeback on the first day of group play, coming from 20 down early to defeat Egypt by 10. Egypt then lost by 15 to Lithuania in the Round of 16 while Turkey advanced to the quarter-finals with an 18 point win over Mali, the West African nation.
Turkey was able to hang with the United States until about mid-way through the second quarter when the Americans took advantage of the young Turkish guards and a lack of quality depth, applying full court pressure on young (born 2000) 6’2″ pg Eray Akyuz (#4), creating numerous turnovers and easy scores. Three other players to watch on Turkey are #10 6’6″ Onyralp Bitim, who is an aggressive slasher who attacks off the bounce and is physical getting to the rim – he could be Turkey’s toughest player – 6’4″ Mert Konuk (#12), an effective catch-and-shoot 3 point threat and athletic 6’5″ Muhaymim Mustafa (#13), who comes off the bench with 8.5 ppg/ 4 rpg stats for the tournament. Mustafa is one of the few Turks who may be able to compete athletically with Canada. Duran is a big, strong, aggressive post player with reasonable nimble feet and range out to the three point line; he is Turkey’s best rebounder (8.5 ppg/11.8 rebounds per game including 19 boards vs. Mali). Expect Duran to get physical with 6’9″ Simi Shittu but have a tough time getting up and down the floor and compete on the offensive glass with the more fluid Canadian center.
The Americans used their superior athleticism to get easy scores in transition (created 23 turnovers) and attack the offensive glass (USA had 20 “o” boards in their win). Turkey will have to also improve their transition defense to stall Canada. Look for the old Tex Winter/Phil Jackson triangle offense in some possessions with Duran in the mid post making decisions. Defensively, the Turks employ combinations of man “d” and 2/3 tandem guarding the elbow.
Expect Coach Dave DeAveiro to shorten the bench if the game remains reasonably tight into the middle and latter parts of the affair. In 6’5″ R.J. Barrett and Shittu, Canada probably has the two best players in the game and 6’7″ Danilo Djuricic, when right, is probably the best pure shooter maybe in the tournament. Canada should go a long way with 6’3″ Andrew Nembhard at the point and 6’7″ Iggy Brazdeikis on the wing. Expect 6’7″ Emmanuel Akot to see considerable time on the wing off the bench and 6’2″ Stefan Smith plus possibly 5’9″ Daniel Sackey to spell Nembhard. Canada could be even stronger and deeper if the recent improved play of 6’4″ Noah Kirkwood continues. After a slow start to the summer, the multi-talented wing is moving back to contributing his strong on-the-ball “d”, taking charges, retrieving 50/50 loose balls, rebounding and finishing when the offense comes to him. A return to the Kirkwood we saw last summer: starter and 25-30 minute a game player, would be another solid addition to the top end of the rotation.
Game time tomorrow morning is 7:30 AM ET.